CFP : The Many Literary Theories and Their Role in Game Analysis

Games and Literary Theory Conference 2018

International Conference, Copenhagen, 15/8-17/8 2018

Call for papers

The Many Literary Theories and Their Role in Game Analysis

This year’s Games and Literary Theory conference sets out to engage the pluralistic nature of contemporary literary theory and its relationship to methods of game analysis. In what has become one of the foundational myths of the field of game studies, the application of literary theory to digital games was met with reservations early on, particularly by some scholars with a background in literary theory. Maybe the least controversial expression of these reservations is Aarseth’s observation of a “recurrent practice of applying the theories of literary criticism to a new empirical field, seemingly without any critical reassessment of the terms and concepts involved” (Aarseth 1997, p. 14). What sets Aarseth’s early critique apart from similar reflections – e.g. Marie-Laure Ryan’s call for a “functional ludo-narrativism that studies how the fictional world, realm of make-believe, relates to the playfield, space of agency” (Ryan 2006, p. 203) – is his subtle emphasis of the plurality of theories concerned with literature.

Literary theory as a whole has been characterized as “the systematic account of the nature of literature and of the methods for analysing it” (Culler 1997, p. 1). Yet already ten years ago, Terry Eagleton observed that “literary theory no longer occupies the commanding place that it seemed to do 25 years ago” (Eagleton 2008, p. vii). In the 1990s, even the French and German left-leaning ideological or philosophical schools of thought identified as ‘Theory’ (with a capital T) (Osborne 2009, p. 19-20) became suspect as inherently totalizing, resulting in an intellectual implosion: “Theory, it seemed, having deconstructed just about everything else, had now finally succeeded in deconstructing itself” (Eagleton 2008, 195). Literary theory has since evolved from a “homogeneous domain of theorizing” to a pronounced plurality of views, voices, and approaches, meaning that “where once there was agreement at least on crucial questions there is now controversy on almost everything” (Kindt 2009, p. 35).

The diversification (or, in Eagleton’s terms, deconstruction) of literary theory began, maybe ironically, around the time at which game studies and other fields started embracing literary theory at a larger scale. Maybe this coincidence is one of the reasons why in this phase of “expansionist narratology” (Kindt 2009) only “an extremely restrictive canon of seminal narratological works by Propp, Genette and, sometimes, Chatman is routinely admitted to the footnotes in works by ludologists, economists or psychologists dealing with stories, while current narratological research is all but ignored” (Heinen & Sommer 2009, p. 2). So the question arises: how much untapped potential for game analysis models in the vein of Ryan’s “functional ludo-narrativism” does there still remain? Which traditions, schools, or phases of literary theory have been so far been ignored, misunderstood, or mis-appropriated? What can be learned from the history of literary theory as well as the history of its application to games, and how can we use the many different literary theories to even better understand and analyze games?

To probe these questions, the Games and Literary Theory Conference invites contributions that engage with literary theory, criticism, and analysis models for the study of digital games, whether they aim to investigate, historicize, collate, compare, or overcome theoretical and methodical challenges, or apply models in new and interesting interpretations. The conference is open to questions ranging from how to do literary-oriented video game analysis and how to use literary theory as intellectual backing for game analysis, to actual close readings and meta-reflections.

Some possible topics might be:

  • Deep analyses (i.e. close “readings”) of examples by way of stringent application of a particular (literary-theory influenced) analysis model
  • Fundamental questions like the (non-)equivalence of close reading to close playing, the significance of the text-concept for game analysis, or the notions of authorship implicitly inherent in analysis frameworks
  • Proposals or critiques of how to do literary-oriented game analysis – Re-appraisals of established game analysis methods derived from literary theory, be they currently accepted or heavily criticized
  • Applications of regionally or historically preferred literary theory models (e.g. psychoanalytical, sociological, Marxist) to digital games
  • Studies of analysis-model formation in literature compared to game studies – Game-specific applications of literary theory in conjunction with or opposition to other disciplinary frameworks (gender studies, regional studies, etc.)
  • Explorations of literary theory as intellectual backing for game analysis

Works cited

Aarseth, Espen (1997). Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Barthes, Roland (1972). “What is Criticism?” In: Roland Bartes: Critical Essays. Trans. Richard Howard. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, pp. 255-260. Bertens, Hans (2014). Literary Theory. The Basics. Third Edition. London/New York: Routledge. Culler, Jonathan (1997). Literary Theory. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Eagleton, Terry (2008). Literary Theory. An Introduction. Anniversary Edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. Heinen, Sandra/Sommer, Roy (2009). “Introduction: Narratology and Interdisciplinarity.” In: Sandra Heinen & Roy Sommer (eds). Narratology in the Age of Cross-Disciplinary Narrative Research. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, pp. 1-10. Kindt, Tom (2009). “Narratological Expansionism and Its Discontents.” In: Sandra Heinen & Roy Sommer (eds). Narratology in the Age of Cross-Disciplinary Narrative Research. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, pp. 35-47. Osborne, Peter (2011). “Philosophy After Theory. Transdisciplinarity and the New.” In: Jane Elliott & Derek Attridge (eds). Theory after ‘Theory’. London/New York: Routledge, pp. 19-33. Ryan, Marie-Laure (2006). Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


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